The new challenge of Gianluca Peluffo, an internationally acclaimed architect, previously cofounder of 5+1AA, who follows in the footsteps of Lucio Fontana, from Albissola Marina in Liguria to Il Monte Galala at Ain El Sokhna, Egypt, to create the masterplan of a micro-city under construction for Tatweer Misr. He tells the story
Photos Ernesta Caviola – Edited by Antonella Boisi
The architect Gianluca Peluffo has Italian roots and works in Albissola Marina, in the province of Savona (Liguria), in the studio on Piazza Pozzo Garitta that was once used by Lucio Fontana. For him this choice is like a manifesto of a precise awareness of cultural belonging.
Starting here, we asked him to talk about his latest international project: Il Monte Galala, the newly founded micro-city (1,300,000 square meters, built on an overall area of 2.200.000) designed for Tatweer Misr, under construction at Ain El Sokhna in Egypt, 150 kilometers from Cairo. The program calls for construction in successive phases of residences, a tourism complex (beaches, a 5-star hotel, three 4-star hotels, business, shopping and wellness centers), as well as entertainment facilities.
The masterplan (winner of the Dubai Cityscape Awards 2015) dates back in its first version to the period 2015-2017 – as a project by Gianluca Peluffo with AMW Architetti Associati, 5+1AA. The masterplan development, construction supervision and general architectural-artistic aspects, in progress since last year, are covered in a project by Gianluca Peluffo & Partners, also including a new mosque (3400 square meters).
So we have to start from the studio on Piazza Pozzo Garitta at Albissola Marina to understand the architecture of the micro-city under construction at El Sokhna in Egypt, with its vision, its tradition and contemporary character?
It is not about geography, but about an invisible, genealogical energy that puts my guiding theme into focus: to understand what it means to be ‘at the center of the world.’ There are places in Italy, like Albissola Marina, that have combined landscape, light and know-how with art to create unrivaled beauty, admired all over the world.
In the studio where I work I find the everyday practice of labor, making, studying, but also that child-like creative energy of an instinctive belonging to the world and its beauty. From Albissola, we design and build in Egypt, Iran, Italy and anywhere, we teach in Milan and Marrakesh, we do 30-40 conferences each year; we meet and invite students and colleagues, in an inclusive, generous way.
Tell us about the project in Egypt for Il Monte Galala at El Sokhna, which calls for the construction, in phases, of 1,300,000 square meters of residences, hotels and entertainment facilities.
The project which I began to work on in 2015, when 5+1AA still existed, began as an entrepreneurial and cultural challenge suggested by an Egyptian company that had just been founded at the time, Tatweer Misr, which now – precisely due to the success of this project (winner of the Dubai Cityscape Awards 2015) – has made a mark on the real estate scene in that country. The client chose our studio precisely because they were looking for a different perspective on the masterplan, in keeping with a method I define as ‘genealogical,’ which I immediately illustrated during the selection process.
This calls for investigation of the spirit of the place, the formal and linguistic conditions to create in order to make this spirit visible in the construction: a specific, anti-colonialist approach of belonging. Blessed are those who have an identity: I showed up with this phrase, to indicate that I was not proposing a direct transfer of international languages, nor was I making an attempt to blend into the local atmosphere, as in developments made for tourism.
Therefore, from the outset we have combined invention of architectural form with the provisions of the masterplan. To inscribe on the contours of the land, to narrate urban, individual and collective stories, became the challenge in such a complex project, due to the topography of the mountainous and desert terrain, the size of the initiative and its timing: about 8000 residential units, subdivided into three construction phases, 2015/2019, 2017/2021, 2020/2024.
Public and private spaces based on dialogue with a Mediterranean and Renaissance genealogical identity, as the foundation of the architecture. Space is an indispensable paradigm of reference. But time – to cite Lyotard – has gotten the upper hand in the representation of contemporary complexity. How does this project interpret the temporal dimension?
That’s a very interesting question. Time is the big mystery, the great contemporary issue. Only when we are able to accept the coexistence of different times inside the same thought, gesture, creation, can we begin to practice in a contemporary way. It is an experience I began in the sorrow and difficulty of the project for the reconstruction of San Giuliano di Puglia, after the earthquake in 2002: how can we restore a sense of belonging over a short time span (design and construction) to a lost, wounded community?
At the time, I thought the pursuit of a linguistic balance between the tradition of construction (houses that were ‘homes’) and the child-like energy of color (deployed in even the smallest volumetric variations of each unit) could heal the ailment of ‘time absent.’ Here in El Sokhna, fortunately, the challenge did not start with suffering, but it was certainly much more complex, a city for about 30,000 inhabitants, for tourism and residential functions, to design in a few months and to build over the course of a few years. As I was saying, the work has been to bring out the invisible, the true spirit of the place.
What elements have you used to carry out this specific maieutic operation?
The mythical element of the tent, the point of connection between nomadism and settlement; the curves of the land as a ‘constructed street’; the building as a body that ‘looks and sees’ (through the ‘crossed rooms,’ veritable eyes of the main dwelling types) and the cool wind from the north as a real and linguistic breath (translated into wind chimneys). These are the main factors we have utilized, together, to create that ‘contemporary existence of times’ inside the project, which is always the great challenge of architecture.
How are the technological elements inserted in the project?
I firmly believe that technology cannot determine the language of architecture. Or, more precisely, it should no longer do so. This does not imply failing to address urgent ecological and economic necessities in the technological choices.
These factors are necessary, but they are not sufficient for the pursuit of an idea of quality and content in the project. In this place, with the request for very high settlement density, the first major technological challenge is ‘constructive’ in nature, namely the reduction of earth movements to a minimum, whether we are talking about sand or stone, embankments and excavations – this meant patient, painstaking research on the sections, to find the best balance.
Then there are all the questions related to energy, to desalination of water, the tools for exploitation of the existing deep aquifers, sunlight and wind, to make artificial climate control compatible with natural ventilation. Today we are thinking about electric transport systems inside the city, and a reduction of outdoor lighting, for questions of energy savings and visual pollution.
What do beauty and ethics mean to Gianluca Peluffo?
They are two terms we have to bring back into harmony, as has always been the case in our Mediterranean culture. Architecture, like art, has to return to the creation of physical or emotional places, of connection between individuals and the community; we need to pursue a ‘fusion of horizons’ rather than schizophrenic celebrations of individualisms and ‘culturisms,’ which are almost always financial in nature. Happiness is the mission of architecture, and every building, whatever its function or its client, has a public role and meaning.